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Energy Roadmap 2050: ‘Europe can decarbonise’

This post originally appeared on the website of the Zero Emissions Resource Organization (ZERO) on December 16, 2011. ZERO is a partner in the Open Climate Network.

The European Commission has announced the adoption of its Energy Roadmap 2050, which explores the challenges of decarbonising the European Union while ensuring security of energy supply and economic competitiveness.

The roadmap’s analysis concludes that decarbonisation of the energy system is "technically and economically feasible" and that energy efficiency and renewables are a critical part of the mix. Its analysis is based on scenarios created by combining, in different ways, the four main decarbonisation routes – namely, energy efficiency, renewables, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage (CCS). The roadmap, which was adopted on 15 December, will form the basis of a long-term European framework that will attempt to meet the EU’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050. To achieve this goal, the Commission states that Europe's energy production will have to be almost carbon-free.

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger stated: “Only a new energy model will make our system secure, competitive and sustainable in the long-run. We now have a European framework for the necessary policy measures to be taken in order to secure the right investments.”

ZERO welcomes the roadmap but stresses the need for greater urgency and political will to make the necessary transformation of Europe’s energy systems in time. To achieve this, the power generation system would have to undergo structural change and achieve a significant level of decarbonisation in 2030 – 57-65% in 2030 and 96-99% in 2050.

The share of renewables rises substantially in all scenarios, achieving at least 55% in 2050, a 45% increase from today's levels. However, ZERO believes that CCS technologies, if commercialised, will have to contribute significantly in most scenarios, with a particularly strong role of up to 32% in power generation – in the case of low nuclear production – and shares of between 19% to 24% in other scenarios, with the exception of the high renewables scenario.

Many renewable technologies need further development to bring down costs, and storage technologies remain critical.

Gas will have to play a major role in the transformation of the energy system, and substituting it for coal and oil in the short to medium term could help to reduce emissions with existing technologies until at least 2030 or 2035. If CCS is applied at large scale, gas might become a low-carbon technology. But without CCS, the long-term role of gas is limited to being a flexible back-up.

ZERO also points out that, for all fossil fuels, CCS will have to be applied from around 2030 in the power sector in order to reach the decarbonisation targets. And its use will depend on public acceptance, adequate carbon prices, the need to demonstrate it effectively at large scale and, critically, investment in the technology in this decade.

The Roadmap will be followed by further policy initiatives on specific energy policy areas in the coming years, starting with proposals on the internal market, renewable energy and nuclear safety next year.

In March 2011, the EC published the overall decarbonisation roadmap covering the whole economy. All sectors – power generation, transport, residential, industry and agriculture – were analysed. The Commission has also been preparing sectoral roadmaps, among which the Energy Roadmap 2050 is the last one.

Read the Energy Roadmap 2050 here.

This post is the work of an Open Climate Network partner. The World Resources Institute is not responsible for the content or opinions expressed by the author.

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